This matter comes before the court on appeal from an East Brunswick Municipal Court conviction of N.J.S.A. 39:3-44. The lower court found the defendant guilty of the aforesaid statute by driving a vehicle with two defective ball joints; and imposed a fine of $15.00, court costs of $15.00 and a $1.00 automated traffic system charge.
While the punitive costs assessed may not elevate this cause to jurisprudential summitry, the issue -- not previously addressed -- is of inestimable significance, particularly in a municipality which is criss-crossed by the New Jersey Turnpike, State Highway 18, and a number of lesser though heavily travelled arteries. May a local police officer, lacking specific statutory authority or probable cause, issue a ticket after stopping and conducting a full-scale inspection of defendant's commercial vehicle? This court today holds that a local police officer (acting without belief that Title 39 has been violated) does not have the authority to conduct random inspections on commercial vehicles, absent a special appointment by the Director of Motor Vehicles.
There is no direct statutory authority in Title 39 for municipal police officers to conduct random inspections. Title 39 is a comprehensive legislative scheme to regulate motor vehicle traffic and clearly delineates the duties and powers of different officers, be they State, county, local, or from the State Department of Environmental Protection. This court cannot enlarge or restrict any officer's sphere of authority.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5B-23, direct inspection authority is given to State Police officers or representatives of the State Department of Environmental Protection for purposes of determining radiation. Chapter 5B does not grant this power to local officers. State Police officers are also authorized to conduct weight measurements of commercial vehicles. N.J.S.A. 39:3-84.3. Section 3-84.3 specifically mentions State
Police and does not grant this duty to any other law enforcement officer.
In Chapter 8 of Title 39, the statute sets up a comprehensive inspection routine for motor vehicles. Inspections will take place either by "designated examiners or at official inspection stations to be designated by the director or at licensed inspection centers". N.J.S.A. 39:8-1. All examiners are appointed by the Director pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:8-2. Only those appointed by the Director are authorized to conduct random roadside examinations, which are implemented through roadside teams under supervision of the Director. Id.
Local police officers are vested with enforcement authority under the statute. N.J.S.A. 39:8-9 and N.J.S.A. 39:5-25. N.J.S.A. 39:8-9 states, "[t]he enforcement of this chapter shall be vested in the director and the police or peace officers of any municipality, any county of the State." This section of the statute clearly gives local officers the responsibility to enforce the inspection requirements of motor vehicles. This section is limited to enforcement and not the discovery of actual inspection of infractions.
N.J.S.A. 39:5-25 allows, "any constable, sheriff's officer, police officer, peace officer, or the director, . . . without a warrant, [to] arrest any person violating in his presence any provision of chapter 3 of this Title". (emphasis supplied). This section precisely presents a list of officers which may enforce Chapter 3 and mandates that the infraction take place before the officer.
The only time a police officer may stop a vehicle without probable cause or without directly witnessing an infraction of chapter 3 is pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:8-6. This section allows a police officer, during a period designated by the Director, to stop a vehicle and request the owner to display a certificate of approval. Id. This intrusion to the vehicle operator is brief and limited.
Officer Richard DeSimone, though concededly acting in good faith, was not acting pursuant to Title 39. As a local officer, he was not stopping defendant to request to see a certificate of approval nor was he stopping the defendant at a designated inspection roadblock under the Director's supervision. Although Officer DeSimone has had extensive training by the Department of ...